NOV 16, 2017 5:20 AM PST

New Cancer Drug Approach Avoids Friendly Fire in the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

With any cancer, developing treatments is difficult because cancer cells are an abnormal version of healthy cells. Any drug used to kill cancer cells runs the risk of killing healthy cells during the process. In the case of T cell lymphoma, the healthy cells that are at risk of friendly fire are vital cells of the immune system that are needed to defend the body from infection.

Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. Credit: L. Wozniak & K.W. Zielinski

In collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Autolus Ltd, scientists from Cardiff University developed a new approach to treating T cell lymphoma, one that zeroes in on cancerous cells and keeps healthy T cells safe and fully-functioning.

As its name suggests, T cell lymphoma is a cancer the originates in abnormally growing T cells, a population of cells vital to a cell-mediated immune response that specifically targets incoming pathogens. Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer, and T cell lymphoma, a rare and usually aggressive cancer, accounts for 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the United States.

"We wouldn't last a week without the essential job our T cells perform by protecting us from infection,” explained Cardiff University’s Andrew Sewell. “The devastating effects of low numbers of just one type of T cell are all too evident in HIV/AIDS.”

The new approach to treating T cell lymphoma is based on the two genes responsibel for creating the T cell receptor, a surface molecule that helps T cells recognize specific pathogens. A T cell is made by either the “C1” gene or the “C2” gene, and because cancer starts with a single cell, a whole tumor is either entirely made up of C1 T cells or of C2 T cells.

So, scientists decided to try and destroy T cells based on whether they were made by the C1 or C2 gene. In theory, they could target C1 T cells to kill C1 cancers while leaving C2 T cells alone, and vice versa. This eliminates the problem faced by scientists in the past looking for T cell lymphoma treatments, where telling the difference between healthy and cancerous T cells was tedious and not always accurate.

“Since T-cells select use of the C1 or C2 gene at random, this remaining half of T-cells are capable of providing immunity to the pathogens we encounter every day,” Sewell explained.

"This study has demonstrated it's possible to kill cancerous T-cells but importantly spare some healthy ones, opening up exciting new treatment possibilities,” said Cancer Research UK’s Dr. Justine Alford. “T cells are a vital part of our immune system and our survival.”

The present study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Source: Lymphoma Research Foundation, Cardiff University

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
FEB 02, 2021
Immunology
Tumors Under Seige by Cancer-Killing Salmonella
FEB 02, 2021
Tumors Under Seige by Cancer-Killing Salmonella
Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped bacteria, often given a bad rap thanks to its association with food poisoning. But c ...
MAR 04, 2021
Immunology
Why Do We Need Two Shots of the COVID Vaccine?
MAR 04, 2021
Why Do We Need Two Shots of the COVID Vaccine?
Unlike social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand hygiene, vaccines are our best bet as a long-term solution to protectin ...
MAR 31, 2021
Microbiology
Deep-Sea Microbes Are 'Invisible' to the Human Immune System
MAR 31, 2021
Deep-Sea Microbes Are 'Invisible' to the Human Immune System
Scientists took an exploratory journey to a place in the central Pacific Ocean in Kirbati called the Phoenix Islands Pro ...
JUN 08, 2021
Immunology
Fueling the Immune System's Killers
JUN 08, 2021
Fueling the Immune System's Killers
There’s a group of “killers” protecting your body against infections and eliminating potentially cance ...
JUN 17, 2021
Immunology
How T Cells Sense Dangerous Invaders
JUN 17, 2021
How T Cells Sense Dangerous Invaders
T cells form a major part of our immune defenses, protecting us against the constant barrage of potentially pathogenic p ...
JUN 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
JUN 16, 2021
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer is the deadliest, and it can happen years after cancer has been treated to the point of remission. Met ...
Loading Comments...